By Endy Zemenides
“For every Hellene and philhellene in New Jersey, for every American who realizes the importance of the East Med. to U.S. national security interests, the reelection of Bob Menendez is of paramount importance…”
Ahead of Tuesday’s election, various analysts and interest groups are declaring this the most important election in a generation. The pro-Hellenic community might as well make a similar declaration, because Senator Bob Menendez is on the ballot.
I could easily recount Bob Menendez’s stellar record spanning three decades on Greece, Cyprus and the Ecumenical Patriarchate, but I want everyone to recall darker days. With the US-Greece bilateral relationship better than any time in recent memory, with American companies like Exxon and Noble backing up Cyprus’ Exclusive Economic Zone, with many of our policy priorities gaining traction in the Congress, in the State and Defense Departments, and in think tanks, it is tempting to believe it was always that way. But it wasn’t, and it wasn’t too long ago that we were facing much darker times.
Take the years from 2004-2008. The Bush Administration had unilaterally recognized FYROM as “the Republic of Macedonia”; it was giving the Republic of Cyprus the diplomatic cold-shoulder over the rejection of the Annan Plan and even pursuing a policy of “creeping recognition” of the occupied north. No real pressure was being brought on Turkey over the oppression of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The Bush Administration tried to force FYROM into NATO, provoking a veto by Greece. It seemed that our community had no traction and very few friends in Washington, D.C. But we DID have Bob Menendez.
Having transitioned from the House to the Senate, he immediately became one of the most active members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (a committee which included a future President, Vice President and Secretary of State – Obama, Biden, Kerry). That Foreign Relations Committee produced resolutions on the Macedonian issue, the Cyprus issue, on the religious freedom of the Ecumenical Patriarchate. The only Senator that was a lead co-sponsor on each and every one of these pieces of legislation? Bob Menendez.
When President Bush nominated an Ambassador to Skopje for the first time since his Administration’s recognition of a “Republic of Macedonia”, a hold was placed by Senators Menendez and Olympia Snowe. The Administration was successful in getting Senator Snowe to remove her opposition, but Senator Menendez did not budge. As a result, the new Ambassador to Skopje had to relay Senate Resolution 300 – decrying Skopje’s propaganda and its territorial and historical claims against Greece, and calling on it to reach a mutually acceptable solution on the name dispute – when he presented his credentials.
Bob Menendez did all this when it wasn’t easy to do so. He did it before he became the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee. And he has done it for three decades. He was not only been “friendly” to our community, he has used political capital, he has helped convert other Members of Congress to our causes, and he has done more to define pro-Hellenic positions as pro-American positions than any one else, Greek or non-Greek. He has obviously uttered all the words we have wanted to hear, but has delivered substance behind each and every one of those words. There have been great philhellenes in history, but Senator Menendez ranks with the very best of them. Indeed, he still has several chapters to write in his story and when all is said and done, he could rank as the greatest of all time.
For every Hellene and philhellene in New Jersey, for every American who realizes the importance of the Eastern Mediterranean to U.S. national security interests, for every American who believes that American values can be reconciled with American interests abroad, the reelection of Bob Menendez is of paramount importance. On the first front, you simply cannot claim that Hellenic issues are a priority for you and not vote for Bob Menendez. It is not even debatable. Only an intellectual fraud could argue that Greece, Cyprus, the Ecumenical Patriarch would not all be substantially worse off if Bob Menendez was not in the Senate. On the second front, no one else in the Senate understands how much stronger the U.S. is if it is able to rely on a stable and secure Greece and Cyprus. As the State and Defense Departments fashion a new strategy in the region, Senator Menendez’s expertise in the region is needed now more than ever. Finally, Bob Menendez has been a consistent and vocal champion of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. It is clear the advancement of those values make us all safer and make America truly great.
For a more secure America, for the advancement of Hellenic issues, and out of a sense of loyalty and philotimo, the choice is clear: reelect Senator Bob Menendez.
*Endy Zemenides is the Executive Director of the Hellenic American Leadership Council (HALC)